YouTuber Hannah Witton on ulcerative colitis, stoma bags, and speaking out
"Everyone has got a poo story."
Some people just aren't ready to share theirs yet.
Hannah Witton isn't one of those people. A sex and relationships YouTuber who is no stranger to the taboo, when her Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) came back, Hannah decided that she wanted to talk about it. So she did - and millions listened.
Hannah was just seven-years-old when she was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
A form of IBD, the condition causes long-term inflammation and sores inside the large intestine that can flare-up or relapse at any time.
For almost a decade, Hannah was in remission from IBD. She took regular medication and was aware of her gut health. Ulcerative colitis was something she had always known - usually in the background.
"And then I got sick," she tells Her. "The nature of the disease is that it’s very unpredictable, so I was having a lot of flare ups.
"It wasn't going away and I was really ill, so I had surgery and I had a stoma bag put in. That’s when I started talking about it online - to explain my absence, but also because I had found a lot of comfort in watching YouTube videos and reading blogs about other young women who were going through the same thing.
"I already had an audience myself, so I thought why not speak about it and maybe help someone who might be having a similar experience?"
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It wasn't long before Hannah began sharing blogs and videos about her experience of ulcerative colitis or, as she likes to call it: "My poo disease."
She recently recorded an episode of Irish podcast, 'Gutcast,' a new show launched this week by the Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (ISCC) in partnership with Janssen Sciences Ireland UC.
In the episode, scheduled to be released early next month, she discusses how IBD affects her day-to-day life and how her words have helped others too.
Talking, says Hannah, has been therapeutic in more ways than one.
"In the beginning, it was so useful for me with my recovery and coming to terms with the change that had happened to my body," she says.
"I’ve always been really grateful to hear other people’s experiences too, whether they’re got a stoma bag or some other kind of chronic illness or invisible disability. Those people tend to be more at the forefront, but then you’ll get other people who will say: ‘I’ve never heard of this before!'"
During her upcoming episode of Gutcast (released August 3), Hannah also discusses how ulcerative colitis has impacted her sex life.
While IBD does not hinder her from being intimate, Hannah has had to devise ways to ensure that her stoma bag doesn't physically get in the way while she is having sex - making sure the bag is empty, rolling it up, and wearing an 'intimacy wrap' to keep everything where it should be.
Since her IBD returned and she was fitted with a stoma, Hannah says her partner has been nothing but supportive.
“When we started going out, I wasn’t ill," she says. "The only thing that affected me was that I had to take medication everyday. I hadn’t been sick in 10 years, I just took those pills, and that was it.
"And then about a year into the relationship was when I got really sick, and we were kind of thrown in at the deep end. We had to come to terms with everything and what it would mean going forward.
"Even just having a partner in hospital, that’s a massive strain on any relationship. He was so supportive though, throughout everything."
Hannah is entirely comfortable speaking about her own experience, but recognises that others may not be quite there yet. In some cases, they may not want to get there at all.
“You don’t have to do what I do and scream it from the rooftops," she says. "But if there are people other than friends and family who it would be useful to tell, like a manager in work, then you should. They can take into account the things that you need.
"But it's about you, it’s your choice who you tell or don’t tell. Ultimately, it’s just poo. I know it can feel really awkward talking about bowel movements, but everyone has got a poo story. Everyone.
"At the end of the day, if you’re a person who’s going to make someone feel bad about a disease that they can’t control, then that’s on you.”
Find out more about inflammatory bowel disease on the ISCC's website here.